INTERVIEW: Deaf woman from Letchworth on overcoming her job battle

A DEAF woman who was jobless for more than a decade has revealed the barriers she has overcome to find work.

Jennifer Banton, of Kyrkeby in Letchworth GC, lost her job as a machinist at lingerie and hosiery company Fermark when it closed in the town in 1999.

Since then the 48-year-old had tried and failed to find employment for 12 years but has now secured employment as an online shopper at Sainsbury’s in Coreys Mill, Stevenage.

Comet reporter Nick Gill asked the mother-of-two about her experiences, aided by a translator.

NG: How did you feel when you lost your job in 1999? Were you optimistic you could find work or were you daunted by the task?

JB: Up until that point I’d been in full-time employment or education all my life so it was difficult adjusting to being unemployed. I was bringing up my two children and caring for my mother so there was always plenty to do, but I still missed going out to work.

Looking for work can be challenging anyway, but for me there were the added complications of my disability and family situation. I applied for many jobs but got nowhere, it was very disheartening. I never thought I’d get a job again.

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NG: What barriers associated with being deaf have you had to overcome to find employment?

JB: My applications had an ever-growing period of unemployment on them which pushed me further and further away from being employable to some people. Some employers also misjudge what deaf people can do and overestimate the adjustments they’ll have to make. I still communicate quite happily with shoppers and colleagues in the store for instance.

My main barrier though was making initial contact with employers. British Sign Language is structured differently to spoken or written English so I didn’t feel confident using text phones, or even writing applications. I needed advice on how to show my skills and then for them to be properly communicated for me.

NG: Do you think there is adequate support for people in your situation?

JB: I don’t think there’s enough information readily available about how to get help. Some organisations can also be quite inflexible in how they will communicate so it’s easy to get bogged down without the proper help. Once I was referred to Ingeus (a provider of employability services for the government) though, I had all the support I needed. My Ingeus advisor Nii, and Anna from Clarion Communications (a communication solutions company for the hearing impaired) helped me put together my CV, look for jobs, made phone calls for me and sorted paperwork. Anna then translated for me at the Sainsbury’s interview and induction. Sainsbury’s too has been amazing. One of my deaf colleagues is a delivery driver. If a customer isn’t home, he’ll text the store and someone else calls the customer, then text’s back. Just a simple system like that means he has a fulfilling job – just like me!

NG: How does it feel to be back working again?

JB: I am so happy to be back in work, even with the 6am starts! I’m really proud that my children have seen me overcome my problems and get back out to work – I hope I’m a good role model.

NG: Drawing on your own experience, what advice would you give to someone who is currently in a similar situation to the one you faced?

Don’t give up – I never thought I’d get a job, but I did. Be positive, focus on your abilities not disabilities and use all the help available at the Jobcentre. Don’t be daunted if you’re passed onto a partner like Ingeus because they genuinely have helped change my life.